As a new generation of Jews and Christians prepares to take leadership in an increasingly multireligious, multiethnic and multiracial society, it is critical they know about the difficult, complex and often tragic aspects of our shared past, as well as those positive chapters that enable us to move forward into the future with creativity and hope.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of C-JEEP (Catholic-Jewish Education Enrichment Program), administered by Pittsburgh Area Jewish
Committee in cooperation with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Through this program, 22 Pittsburgh rabbis and Jewish educators have taught over 4,000 Catholic high school students about Jews, Judaism and the deep Jewish roots of Christianity with reciprocal presentations in Jewish youth groups and congregational schools.
This program seeks to build human bridges of mutual respect and understanding between Roman Catholic and Jewish students and sensitize to anti-Semitism, racism and other manifestations of bigotry and prejudice. In these meetings, facts are conveyed, but more significantly, understanding is gained.
Attitudes may be difficult to measure, but they are real and they shape the realities of life. C-JEEP addresses high school students who may have had no previous exposure to each other’s religious faiths and who may, in fact, harbor serious misconceptions about them. Students learn that Judeo-Christian is not some obtuse hyphenation, but that it signifies a living link between the two religions. The fact that Jesus himself was a Jew whose message was firmly rooted in Jewish tradition comes as a source of greater understanding to some, a startling revelation to others.
Jewish students learn that there is more than a 2,000-year history of tension between the two religions and Catholic youths learn that since World War II, the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant denominations have sincerely reflected on their role in nurturing and encouraging the anti-Semitism that made the Holocaust possible, with a serious internal critique that includes revised theology, liturgy and teachings about Jews to reflect an updated belief in an eternal, direct covenant between the Jewish People and God.
C-JEEP is an outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), that promulgated a landmark document called Nostra Aetate, as well as a thoughtful Jewish response, issued in 2000 by an interdenominational group of 220 Jewish scholars that stated, "we believe it is time for Jews to learn about the efforts of Christians to honor Judaism."
Nostra Aetate, (Latin for "Our Time") deals with relations between the Catholic Church and other religions and transformed the Church's teachings on Jews and Judaism in the shadow of the Holocaust. The most notable element of Nostra Aetate repudiated the charge of deicide that blamed the Jews collectively for the death of Jesus at the time of his death and in subsequent generations in a clear reversal of Church doctrine.
It also emphasized the shared spiritual foundation of both religions, and affirmed the eternal and unbroken covenant between God and the Jewish people and unequivocally condemned "all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time or from any source." Nostra Aetate announced to the entire Christian world that the time for a change is at hand and to the Jews that there was a sincere desire for a new kind of relationship.
Real change takes more than good intentions. Nostra Aetate and the subsequent Notes and Guidelines published by the Vatican and by national councils of bishops, remain abstract and symbolic until they are implemented on the ground through partnerships such as C-JEEP. Nostra Aetate also encouraged Jews and Catholics to join in study and join in "friendly discussions." Indeed, there are more than 24 academic centers of Christian-Jewish study in this country alone and numerous dialogues and interfaith programs of cooperation.
There have been setbacks and disappointments in our relationship at the national and international levels since 1965, but the foundational relationship has remained intact and strong. I am happy to report that Pittsburgh boasts an array of successful, cooperative undertakings and opportunities for mutual friendship and fellowship, including the PAJC's Christian-Jewish dialogue, the Rabbi-Priest Dialogue, the Pursuer of Peace Pilgrimage, Bridging Faiths (a PAJC interfaith initiative for teens) and more.
On Sunday, Sept. 18, the two communities joined together in a program featuring Bishop David Zubik and Rabbis Alvin Berkun, Aaron Bisno and James Gibson. They explored the meaning of Nostra Aetate for our time and celebrated the many ways in which we have joined in faith and friendship over the years. We also honored those who made the last 10 years of C-JEEP so successful.
The 20th century produced two world wars, the Holocaust, Nazism, fascism and communism. It brought countless wars between ethnic, racial and religious groups. And yet, in that same period, Jews and Catholics began a healing process of which C-JEEP plays a critical role — the education of students. If our two ancient communities can succeed on this effort, perhaps we can be a model for other groups to emulate.
(Deborah Fidel is executive director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee.)